My God, I was bored.
I was 20 years old, a cadet on a local newspaper in a small regional city (Pop: 30,000) and genuinely shocked no-one had seen fit to hand me a Pulitzer Prize for anything I’d written.
Honestly — the disrespect.
What I didn’t know then — and what I realised last week, after a serendipitous phone call I made for a client — was that the boredom I experienced back then, and how I dealt with it, taught me some of the secrets to successful content marketing.
For nearly two years I was the most junior reporter on the paper. While I counted my success and progress by how many front-page “splashes” I got each month, being the junior member of the editorial team meant I had to write all the — how do I put this sensitively? — crap.
Every Thursday morning, for nearly two years, the sales manager would hand me the name and phone number of the classified advertiser I’d have to interview for our “Trader of the Week” advertorial, and the number of a real estate agent who’d take me around the “Feature Home” I’d profile in our next edition.
For the first eight or nine months, it was all an adventure. I was writing for a living — who cared what I was writing? But soon the boredom set in. Did Woodward and Bernstein have to put up with this rubbish?
I started to become rebellious. I’d slip in a few jokes, a pun or a double entendre, to amuse myself. All the copy had to be approved by the advertiser, and I was getting away with it. In fact, they loved it. The local undertaker even dared me to include some of his special deals.
Die this week, get 50% off!
Get buried in one coffin, get your next coffin free!
I started to really enjoy writing the profiles and soon discovered I could also give them real heart — telling the stories of the people behind the businesses rather than writing a promo for whatever deal they had on that week. I adored doing that. Why wouldn’t the local plumber, mechanic, dog washer or gardener have incredible stories worth publishing?
It was a fresh approach to traditional newspaper advertorials and our advertisers loved it because they could see it working. The public were actually reading these articles and reacting positively.
The lesson I learned back then, the one that is so central to success in content marketing, is that there is always a good story to tell, and a good way to tell it. Even if you think the subject matter is boring as hell.
All of this came flooding back to me last week because a client asked me to interview one of their customers for an article for their magazine. The name of their customer was instantly familiar — I’d first interviewed him 20 years ago, as a cadet, for “Trader of the Week.”
He was kind enough not to mention my non-existent Pulitzer Prize.
8 September 2020
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